This is my (fake) christmas tree at home. My family’s not christian, but we like to be in a festive mood at this time of the year. ^_^
As the holiday season approaches, people are already in a rush to buy presents for their loved ones. Christmas and New Year’s Day approach, entitling celebrations, joy and quality family-time.
These holidays are celebrated all over the world, with all kinds of traditions original to different places. Even in countries where Christianity is not the main religion, such as Morocco, Christmas is celebrated just for people to have fun and spend extra time together without the religious background.
Russia is, mostly, Christian — Orthodox, to be precise. Of course not everyone practices Christian religion, so many people do not celebrate Christmas; for instance, my family is Muslim, so we are among those who do not. We still celebrate New Year’s the same way though.
Christmas is not as much of a big holiday in Russia today. It is celebrated on the 7 th of January (Orthodox, remember?) and is purely religious; there is no festive mood like in the western countries; people don’t buy presents. In fact, there are no “traditions” for Christmas today – people spend it how they please; some still do it according to old, historic traditions.
It was a very important holiday before, and it would take up longer than a week. It would all start on the 6th of January – on “Svyatki” – a day that celebrated the dead, with people disguising themselves, most importantly – wearing masks, going around houses singing festive songs and getting food or presents, much like Halloween but without the scary undertone. The Svyatki would last until the 19th of January – “Kryashenie”, the day known as Epiphany. On that day, people would dive into ice-holes, with water in these ice-holes previously consecrated by the clergy. That was believed to cure illnesses and purify from evil. It is actually a pagan tradition; but many pagan traditions were transported into Orthodox Christianity. Believe it or not, while Svyatki are not widespread today, there still are people who dive into ice-holes.
Novy God, which means “New Year” in Russian, is a holiday celebrated by everyone – or by, at least, 90% of the population, – unlike Russian Christmas. It has a long history in my country, but the way it is spent nowadays is not the way people met the newcoming year hundreds of years ago. Actually, Russians would celebrate it in March until 1492, and in September until 1700; and it is only in 1700 that we started to meet the year like everyone – in January.
However, most of the traditions common today were not there until USSR; it is only then that New Year’s became the holiday the Russians know today.
As the Party prohibited celebrating Christmas (due to its highly atheist mentality), people transported their favorite traditions to New Year’s. That way, the Christmas tree became the New Year Tree. They also kept the children’s traditions. Thus, “Ded Moroz” – Granfather Frost was born. Despite the fact that Ded Moroz actually originates from Slavic mythology, today he is basically an analogy of the western Santa Claus – a cheerful elderly man that brings presents to children, with several small differences – he brings presents on the New Year’s Day, not on Christmas; he does not have a sleigh, deers, or elves; and he is usually accompanied by his granddaughter, “Snegurochka” – The Snow Maiden.
There are, of course, other traditions. Throughout the day, people rush to get the tables ready – there are different dishes that are considered a must-have on the table. These include champagne, mandarines, the Olivier salad, also known as the Russian salad, and dressed herring. For the whole day, there are different music or humoristic shows on most of the channels; all of them are festive and merry. Five minutes before midnight, people gather around the tables and on most of the TV-channels, presidential speech is transmitted, in which the president summarizes the yearly events and wishes everyone the best in the upcoming year. After his speech, the striking clock – or the Kremlin clock – strikes twelve times, the twelfth time signifying that it is midnight; you are supposed to make a wish before the clock finishes striking.
Those who do not wish to stay at home go to the Red Square – and there they can eat, dance and have fun. After midnight, the New Year’s Eve is over; the New Year’s Day comes. People eat, drink, get out on the streets, let off fireworks and party.